« Different results as Eighth and Ninth Circuits consider different Apprendi claims | Main | Discussion of notable federal civil suit against (over-zealous? malicious?) local DA »

September 1, 2011

"Mom who sold $31 in pot seeks reduction to 12-year sentence"

A helpful reader alerted me to this notable local sentencing story from Oklahoma, which carried the same headline as the title of this post.  Here are the details:

A Kingfisher County woman profiled in a Tulsa World story earlier this year examining the state's high female incarceration rate has a hearing for a sentence modification set for Oct. 6.

Patricia M. Spottedcrow, 26, received a 12-year prison sentence last October for selling a total of $31 in marijuana to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010. Her mother, Delita Starr, 51, was also charged.

In blind guilty pleas before a judge, Spottedcrow received prison time, and her mother received a 30-year suspended sentence. Neither had prior criminal convictions.

[A]ttorney Josh Welch said he has requested Spottedcrow be present to speak directly to the judge.  "Patricia wants to let the judge know what she has learned and been through," Welch said.  "She wants him to know she's remorseful, accepts responsibility and it will not happen again.  She doesn't want a free pass or makes excuses for her conduct.  With all things said, we disagree with the 12-year sentence, with it being excessive for this case."

Spottedcrow was featured in a Tulsa World article on Feb. 20, published in media across the state through the nonprofit journalism group Oklahoma Watch.  The judge, who is now retired, said in a previous interview that Spottedcrow's decade-long sentence was imposed because her four young children were in the home at the time of the drug buys.  She said first-time offenders usually do not go to prison and alternatives including treatment are typically sought.

When Spottedcrow was booked into the jail after sentencing, some marijuana was found in a jacket she was wearing.  She pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge and was given a two-year sentence to run concurrent with her other sentence.

The judge said she gave Starr a suspended sentence so she could care for Spottedcrow's children, who are now 10, 5, 3 and 2....

While in prison, Spottedcrow has taken parenting classes, finished her GED and participates in a grief/loss recovery program, a behavior course, Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous and a faith-based program. She is on the waiting list for some other programs and would like to go to college for a business degree, according to her court filing. She would have to spend at least 50 percent of her sentence in prison before being eligible for parole. "I am asking for a second chance at life, my chance to be a positive role model and a mother to my children," she wrote.

In response filed by prosecutors, they state the sentence is within the range of punishment allowed under the law and do not feel a modification is warranted.

Spottedcrow's case led to a groundswell of support through online petitions, donations to help her children and an Oklahoma City rally featuring Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. Welch said her case has attracted people for different reasons such as reform of drug laws, issues surrounding incarceration of women/mothers and excessive sentencing.

A prison reform bill was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in May. It will increase the eligibility for offenders who can be considered for GPS monitoring and community sentencing, enforce a 30-day deadline for the governor to sign paroles for low-risk nonviolent offenders, and add criteria for Pardon and Parole Board members. Welch said he is not sure any of the changes would have been a benefit to Spottedcrow or Starr.

"They have to be implemented, and judges and prosecutors must believe in them," Welch said. "This is a case screaming for help. The function of a judge is not just to punish people but to help people. That was lost in her case.

"It is time to change the mentality of judges that punishment is not always the best option. It's easy to step up to the podium and say, 'I'm tough on crime.' But it has consequences."

UPDATE The FAMM folks blogging at Sentencing Speak (who tipped me to this remarkable story) ask some good follow-up question in this post.

September 1, 2011 at 05:35 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20154350b5fde970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Mom who sold $31 in pot seeks reduction to 12-year sentence":

Comments

Is this billing method common for prisoners? Or is it just an Oklahoma practice?

http://www1.odcr.com/detail.php?Case=037-CF%20%201000125&County=037-

Posted by: Robert | Sep 1, 2011 8:26:58 PM

The sentencing judge should be placed on a boycott list. No product or service provider is to serve him. If he dies from deprivation of essential objects, so much the better. I have said the lawyers on the bench are vermin, subhuman scum. Good illustration here. The neighbors should drive him out of the state.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 1, 2011 8:36:56 PM

I will be curious to see how Bill Otis defends this one.

Keep in mind this sort of thing happens across the country every day, not as extremely as this (maybe only 3 years instead of 12 years, for example) but roughly in line with this script in most all other respects -- the bizarre police effort to target and entrap such harmless and low-level offenders, the obscene sentencing guidelines, the whacked-out judge, the "it's within guideline" prosecutor who, like the judge, totally breaches his duty to further justice, and the racist, sexist and paternalistic undertone to all of it.

This could happen to any of us.

Posted by: James | Sep 1, 2011 9:17:14 PM

James,

I would support executing her, so she got off light at 12 years. This despite the fact that the only drugs I believe should be regulated are antibiotics (and anything similar) where use over time changes how effective those substances will be for everyone.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 1, 2011 11:25:49 PM

I am not defending the sentence, but...

James stated: "and the racist, sexist and paternalistic undertone to all of it."

Oh, please. People like you do so much more harm for your cause than good when you turn everything into sexism and/or racism.

It's interesting how it always seems that the motives of judges, prosecutors, and police are always assumed to be the worst while the criminals are always the noble and dignified victims.

The judge is probably an idiot; nothing more and nothing less.

The woman does not deserve 12 years but is a criminal and a terrible parent (no, you cannot be a good parent AND sell marijuana within spitting distance of your kids).

"This could happen to any of us."

Well, any of us that may be selling illicit drugs. Those that are not, not so much.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 1, 2011 11:36:39 PM

James --

"I will be curious to see how Bill Otis defends this one."

I'll be curious to see what my position is, since you apparently decide for me.

One of the few things that exceeds left wing extremist contempt for the United States is left wing extremist presumption.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 1, 2011 11:37:41 PM

I'd sure like to see what the "good follow-up questions" mentioned in the "Update" are. I only saw these on the FAMM site that was linked to:

Question 1 from FAMM: "Should having kids in the home at the time of a drug deal justify a (much) harsher sentence? Our hunch is that in-home drug dealing is pretty common, and kids are bound to see it. If every sentence got enhanced for in-front-of-the-kids conduct, imagine the impact it would have on our already packed prisons."

Of course it justifies a harsher sentence. The negative impact of seeing such behavior is obvious to any good parent, even those who believe that marijuana should be legal (a category I do not fall under).

And the comment that "kids are bound to see it" is laughable. No, they are NOT "bound to see it" if their dirtbag parents are not selling illicit drugs.

As far as 'already packed prisons," I am only worried about them to the degree that there are innocent people in them. The guilty ones (the overwhelming majority) should stay as long as their legal sentence calls for. In other words, money well spent. Those that are arguing to empty them because of the cost are being disingenuous anyway. They could care less about "cost" and are only worried about gutting from society any sense of individual responsibility.

Question 2 from FAMM: "Should judges be required to give at least one caregiver a suspended sentence/probation in family drug conspiracies? Think of the savings to the state: no prison expenses for incarcerating the caregiver, the kids don't go to foster care, the long-term benefits of kids staying with at least some family. There are likely quite a few families engaged in drug trafficking -- should someone always get left behind to care for the kids of those who don't? How would the judge pick the caregiver? Should he be allowed to?"

Nope. This entire paragraph relies on a faulty premise, that children are ALWAYS better off with family. This is only true if it is a GOOD family. The "long-term benefits" to the children would come from removing them from such a toxic environment. Foster parents, adoption, even long-term institutions are better than keeping children in an environment where they will see degenerate behavior day after day.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 2, 2011 2:22:44 PM

Background here: http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com/search?q=Oklahoma

Posted by: ohwilleke | Sep 2, 2011 3:57:05 PM

She should have engaged in insider trading instead. Lower sentence, probably even if you do it in front of the kids. Which does raise the question: why is it worse to sell pot in front of kids than engage in other crimes? If there was evidence of phone calls related to white collar crime being done around kids, would that also justify enhanceemnt of the sentence?

Posted by: Paul | Sep 2, 2011 7:34:22 PM

Paul,

A) A child is not going to know what is going on if mom is on the phone talking about AT&T stock.
B) Marijuana Mama was bringing less than honorable characters into the house.
C) Marijuana Mama even had one of the kids participate in a sale.
D) Even if we assume that an insider trading deal around the kids is worse than selling drugs, it is not necessarily an argument that Marijuana Mama should get less of or no sentence. It is just as likely that the inside trader should get more. You do not justify bad behavior by pointing out the worse behavior of others.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Sep 2, 2011 9:07:30 PM

Well i don't approve selling of drugs but sometimes these sentences do sound a bit strange to us europeans..

Posted by: Prahan Matkat | Sep 3, 2011 5:18:34 AM

A child in a crack house suffers a fatal asthma attack from the crack smoke. The criminal law should address actual physical harm, property damage, or economic loss. In this case, no harm took place.

One notes the vermin on the bench retired. He should still be boycotted to punish him and to deter others.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 4, 2011 4:25:44 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB